Over the past few decades, vaccines have played a pivotal role in raising the quality of life for millions of people.
Immunization programs have prevented potentially devastating childhood diseases such as measles, mumps, rubella, diphtheria, whooping cough, tetanus, tuberculosis and polio.
Consequently, as we observe the ninth annual Vaccination Week in the Americas between 23 and 30 April, we have many reasons to celebrate.
This year, the Caribbean celebrates its twentieth year without an indigenous case of the measles and its eighth year without an indigenous case of rubella. Here in the Cayman Islands, more than sixty years of immunization efforts have eliminated neonatal tetanus, Haemophilus influenza type b infections, mumps and TB meningitis, and several communicable diseases such as small pox and Polio.
Immunization indeed represents an important investment in the health of people everywhere. Worldwide immunization programs prevent more than three million deaths annually.
But apart from preventing human suffering and disability, vaccination programs also make sound economic sense. A recent cost-benefit analysis in the United States indicated that for every dollar invested in a vaccine dose, authorities save up to US$ 27 in health expenses.Regional studies exhibit the same trend: To treat a case of rotavirus gastroenteritis in Latin American and Caribbean countries costs an average of US$3,000 per patient, while the vaccination costs only US$24 per dose.
Here in the Cayman Islands, we are fortunate to have an excellent Public Health Department with dedicated staff to implement robust and up-to-date vaccination schedules. Officials follow the Pan American Health Organization's Expanded Program of Immunization guidelines in scheduling local immunization campaigns and run a relevant and modern vaccination program. Furthermore, all vaccines are offered to residents free of charge.
Local statistics show that immunization coverage for infants is 90 percent for most vaccines and 97 percent of children entering primary school are fully immunized. However, public health officials around the world are noticing a worrying trend where some parents are opting out of immunization programs, thus exposing their children to infectious diseases.
So, while we use this week to celebrate our vaccination successes, we must also see it as a call to action. I urge parents and guardians to ensure that their children's immunizations are up-to-date. As this year's theme states: "Vaccinate your Family, Protect your Community." Let's make sure that we do not fall short.
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